One of our main reasons for a return visit to Mandalay on our 2016 trip was the chance to experience the trip over the Gokteik Viaduct. We had been so impressed by several videos of the ride that it had earned a spot near the top of our bucket list. The Viaduct represents the finest in terms of turn of the (20th) Century British engineering and American construction. It covers a span of roughly .4 of a mile and a height of 335 feet over the river below.
The one way train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw is about 11 hours but we shortened our travel time by taking a car ride of several hours along with our Mandalay Guide Soe Paing to the train station in Pyin Oo Lwin, a stop along the way. As is often the case, the train was behind schedule, which gave us several hours to kill at the station but it afforded us the opportunity to meet and interact with local people and vendors also waiting for the train.
We had brought along some matchbox cars and inexpensive beaded bracelets to give as gifts to boys and girls we met during our trip so we handed out a few of those and bought some fruit, drinks and coffee from vendors. After several hours there, we had made more than one new friend. On the video above there is a sequence where a vendor is walking through the train recognizing us from the station and giving us a warm greeting.
Coincidentally, the next day we took a boat tour to some villages outside of the city of Hsipaw and as we were having a late morning tea at an open air stall, another vendor we met in Pyin Oo Lwin approached us and welcomed us to her home village.
The Viaduct experience actually involves a couple events. Initially visitors travel through some beautiful Myanmar countryside and climb into the scenic mountains. The train passes through several towns and villages and vendors get on and off the train at each stop to walk the isles selling mostly drinks and snacks.
Then, as the train switches back and forth up and down the mountains the first view of Viaduct emerges out of the verdant green landscape looking like some giant toy erector set.
As the train nears the Viatduct, it makes a stop at the Nawnghkio station, the last town before the bridge. In our video is a scene of another train heading in the opposite direction or south towards Mandalay making a stop and the passengers on the facing trains taking pictures of each other. But there is a greater need for the stop as there is a single set of tracks crossing the bridge so the stop allows the train heading in one direction to wait for the train heading opposite to clear the bridge before it can pass.
Almost immediately upon departing Nawnghkio the train slows to a pedestrian pace as it begins the pass over the creaking ancient structure. I’m afraid the video on this page does not do justice to how impressive the passing is.
Many travelers continue on the train from that point on to Hsipaw while some others hire a car for the 4-hour ride back to Mandalay. Our plan was to leave the train and meet our car and driver north of the Viaduct for the final leg of the trip up to Hsipaw. At the end of our video you get a view of the full length of our train from our car as we wait at a crossing for it to pass.